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York College coaches create cultures that spur teams to succeed

September 15, 2020
Coach Katie Fost surrounded by Field Hockey team
Head Coach Katie Fost surrounded by the Field Hockey team from a previous year.

More than the results of a game or the amount of recognition at the end of a season, the athletic coaches at York College of Pennsylvania see team culture as a driving force for excellence. Whether athletes are first-year students fresh on the field or seasoned seniors ready to venture into their careers, the lessons they’ve learned about working together and being accountable to themselves have made them individuals their coaches are proud to call Spartans.

On the basketball court

Developing team culture starts with recruitment, says Matt Hunter, who has been the Men’s Basketball team Head Coach for eight years. “We focus on the person as a whole in an effort to create a future filled with great husbands, great fathers, and impactful leaders in the community,” he says. “Our players understand that we are all working together toward a common goal, and they compete relentlessly in that pursuit of excellence.”

Coach Hunter has seen his team’s commitment to culture pay off in the process, not the victories of games. Part of that process is always asking, “What’s next?” By challenging themselves to compete and make sacrifices, Coach Hunter says, his players take risks that make them better people, excellent students, and contributing community members.

Despite the stresses of the COVID-19 outbreak, he says, the team’s focus on a student-led program has allowed new student-leaders to flourish and create a more unified group. “I believe our players are prepared to handle whatever is thrown at them and are doing an excellent job.” 

Taking it to the lacrosse field

“Culture to me is the key driver for a team to align in the same direction,” says Brandon Childs, Head Coach of the Men’s Lacrosse team. “On our team, we have 45 players from 12 different states all raised with 45 different upbringings. Getting them all aligned in the same direction is so important.”

That culture starts with three core beliefs: to serve others, work hard, and to stay humble. Those core beliefs have become non-negotiables that drive the team’s actions and, hopefully, give them successful outcomes. Coach Childs hopes they are beliefs that stick with his athletes long beyond their days at the College. “If the only thing that our players remember from our coaching is to serve others, work hard, and to be humble, then we have done our job well,” he says.

He saw that culture shine in the midst of a loss when his team ended its season one game shy of the 2018 final four in the national quarterfinals. When they returned home and were unpacking the bus, the senior captain (a first team all-American), was the last player to leave the bus. He was on his hands and knees picking crumbs off the ground. “As he and I walked into Grumbacher [Sport and Fitness Center], I asked him why he did that?” Childs says. “His response was, ‘I just wanted to lead this team one more time.’ "

Jen Muston, Head Coach of the Women's Lacrosse team and Assistant Athletic Director, has seen culture push her athletes to not just care about their performance on the field, but by understanding each other’s needs as people, students, and family members. If her athletes don’t find fulfillment in the experience of the sport, she says, it clouds their enjoyment of it.

After 14 years of the lacrosse program competing in the Capital Athletic Conference, the team finally won the Conference Championship last season. Coach Muston credits it all to a positive and healthy team culture. “The coaching staff was able to place our focus on lacrosse and getting the team to the next competitive level, rather than focusing on fixing team relationships and culture,” she says.

“While our methods and our circumstance have changed slightly due to COVID-19, our standards have not and will not drop. We still hold ourselves to the highest standard and level of expectation, and we are still York Lacrosse.”

Building culture in field hockey

As Head Coach of the Field Hockey team, Katie Fost has spent nearly three years building a culture that people can see in action. “With how our game is structured, the players must be able to adapt, overcome, and be quick thinkers to find success,” she says. “Therefore, I put the team, and individuals, in circumstances where they have to focus on communicating and problem-solving. In order to find success, they must act, and they must act in a way that lives up to the core values that our culture is built upon.”

Coach Fost sees that culture pay off in a multitude of ways. She sees it when teammates check in on each other or encourage one another during a bad practice. She sees it when the athletes put in extra reps on the field, extra time in the weight room, or getting help in the classroom. She sees it when community members get excited to work with her team. “I see that culture pay off so many times, and yes sometimes it's because we earned a hard-fought win, but more times than not it's because of so much more than a win on the scoreboard.”